Running shell command from Python and capturing the output

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I want to write a function that will execute a shell command and return its output as a string, no matter, is it an error or success message. I just want to get the same result that I would have gotten with the command line.

What would be a code example that would do such a thing?

For example:

def run_command(cmd):
    # ??????

print run_command('mysqladmin create test -uroot -pmysqladmin12')
# Should output something like:
# mysqladmin: CREATE DATABASE failed; error: 'Can't create database 'test'; database exists'


answered 8 years ago vartec #1

Something like that:

def runProcess(exe):    
    p = subprocess.Popen(exe, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)
      retcode = p.poll() #returns None while subprocess is running
      line = p.stdout.readline()
      yield line
      if(retcode is not None):

Note, that I'm redirecting stderr to stdout, it might not be exactly what you want, but I want error messages also.

This function yields line by line as they come (normally you'd have to wait for subprocess to finish to get the output as a whole).

For your case the usage would be:

for line in runProcess('mysqladmin create test -uroot -pmysqladmin12'.split()):
    print line,

answered 8 years ago senderle #2

The answer to this question depends on the version of Python you're using. The simplest approach is to use the subprocess.check_output function:

>>> subprocess.check_output(['ls', '-l'])
b'total 0\n-rw-r--r--  1 memyself  staff  0 Mar 14 11:04 files\n'

check_output runs a single program that takes only arguments as input.1 It returns the result exactly as printed to stdout. If you need to write input to stdin, skip ahead to the run or Popen sections. If you want to execute complex shell commands, see the note on shell=True at the end of this answer.

The check_output function works on almost all versions of Python still in wide use (2.7+).2 But for more recent versions, it is no longer the recommended approach.

Modern versions of Python (3.5 or higher): run

If you're using Python 3.5 or higher, and do not need backwards compatibility, the new run function is recommended. It provides a very general, high-level API for the subprocess module. To capture the output of a program, pass the subprocess.PIPE flag to the stdout keyword argument. Then access the stdout attribute of the returned CompletedProcess object:

>>> import subprocess
>>> result =['ls', '-l'], stdout=subprocess.PIPE)
>>> result.stdout
b'total 0\n-rw-r--r--  1 memyself  staff  0 Mar 14 11:04 files\n'

The return value is a bytes object, so if you want a proper string, you'll need to decode it. Assuming the called process returns a UTF-8-encoded string:

>>> result.stdout.decode('utf-8')
'total 0\n-rw-r--r--  1 memyself  staff  0 Mar 14 11:04 files\n'

This can all be compressed to a one-liner:

>>>['ls', '-l'], stdout=subprocess.PIPE).stdout.decode('utf-8')
'total 0\n-rw-r--r--  1 memyself  staff  0 Mar 14 11:04 files\n'

If you want to pass input to the process's stdin, pass a bytes object to the input keyword argument:

>>> cmd = ['awk', 'length($0) > 5']
>>> input = 'foo\nfoofoo\n'.encode('utf-8')
>>> result =, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, input=input)
>>> result.stdout.decode('utf-8')

You can capture errors by passing stderr=subprocess.PIPE (capture to result.stderr) or stderr=subprocess.STDOUT (capture to result.stdout along with regular output). When security is not a concern, you can also run more complex shell commands by passing shell=True as described in the notes below.

This adds just a bit of complexity, compared to the old way of doing things. But I think it's worth the payoff: now you can do almost anything you need to do with the run function alone.

Older versions of Python (2.7-3.4): check_output

If you are using an older version of Python, or need modest backwards compatibility, you can probably use the check_output function as briefly described above. It has been available since Python 2.7.

subprocess.check_output(*popenargs, **kwargs)  

It takes takes the same arguments as Popen (see below), and returns a string containing the program's output. The beginning of this answer has a more detailed usage example.

You can pass stderr=subprocess.STDOUT to ensure that error messages are included in the returned output -- but don't pass stderr=subprocess.PIPE to check_output. It can cause deadlocks. When security is not a concern, you can also run more complex shell commands by passing shell=True as described in the notes below.

If you need to pipe from stderr or pass input to the process, check_output won't be up to the task. See the Popen examples below in that case.

Complex applications & legacy versions of Python (2.6 and below): Popen

If you need deep backwards compatibility, or if you need more sophisticated functionality than check_output provides, you'll have to work directly with Popen objects, which encapsulate the low-level API for subprocesses.

The Popen constructor accepts either a single command without arguments, or a list containing a command as its first item, followed by any number of arguments, each as a separate item in the list. shlex.split can help parse strings into appropriately formatted lists. Popen objects also accept a host of different arguments for process IO management and low-level configuration.

To send input and capture output, communicate is almost always the preferred method. As in:

output = subprocess.Popen(["mycmd", "myarg"], 


>>> import subprocess
>>> p = subprocess.Popen(['ls', '-a'], stdout=subprocess.PIPE, 
...                                    stderr=subprocess.PIPE)
>>> out, err = p.communicate()
>>> print out

If you set stdin=PIPE, communicate also allows you to pass data to the process via stdin:

>>> cmd = ['awk', 'length($0) > 5']
>>> p = subprocess.Popen(cmd, stdout=subprocess.PIPE,
...                           stderr=subprocess.PIPE,
...                           stdin=subprocess.PIPE)
>>> out, err = p.communicate('foo\nfoofoo\n')
>>> print out

Note Aaron Hall's answer, which indicates that on some systems, you may need to set stdout, stderr, and stdin all to PIPE (or DEVNULL) to get communicate to work at all.

In some rare cases, you may need complex, real-time output capturing. Vartec's answer suggests a way forward, but methods other than communicate are prone to deadlocks if not used carefully.

As with all the above functions, when security is not a concern, you can run more complex shell commands by passing shell=True.


1. Running shell commands: the shell=True argument

Normally, each call to run, check_output, or the Popen constructor executes a single program. That means no fancy bash-style pipes. If you want to run complex shell commands, you can pass shell=True, which all three functions support.

However, doing so raises security concerns. If you're doing anything more than light scripting, you might be better off calling each process separately, and passing the output from each as an input to the next, via

run(cmd, [stdout=etc...], input=other_output)


Popen(cmd, [stdout=etc...]).communicate(other_output)

The temptation to directly connect pipes is strong; resist it. Otherwise, you'll likely see deadlocks or have to do hacky things like this.

2. Unicode considerations

check_output returns a string in Python 2, but a bytes object in Python 3. It's worth taking a moment to learn about unicode if you haven't already.

answered 7 years ago byte_array #3

This is way easier, but only works on Unix (including Cygwin).

import commands
print commands.getstatusoutput('wc -l file')

it returns a tuple with the (return_value, output)

This only works in python2.7: it is not available on python3. For a solution that works in both, use the subprocess module instead:

import subprocess
print response

answered 6 years ago Max Ekman #4

Vartec's answer doesn't read all lines, so I made a version that did:

def run_command(command):
    p = subprocess.Popen(command,
    return iter(p.stdout.readline, b'')

Usage is the same as the accepted answer:

command = 'mysqladmin create test -uroot -pmysqladmin12'.split()
for line in run_command(command):

answered 5 years ago Aaron Hall #5

Your Mileage May Vary, I attempted @senderle's spin on Vartec's solution in Windows on Python 2.6.5, but I was getting errors, and no other solutions worked. My error was: WindowsError: [Error 6] The handle is invalid.

I found that I had to assign PIPE to every handle to get it to return the output I expected - the following worked for me.

import subprocess

def run_command(cmd):
    """given shell command, returns communication tuple of stdout and stderr"""
    return subprocess.Popen(cmd, 

and call like this, ([0] gets the first element of the tuple, stdout):


After learning more, I believe I need these pipe arguments because I'm working on a custom system that uses different handles, so I had to directly control all the std's.

To stop console popups (with Windows), do this:

def run_command(cmd):
    """given shell command, returns communication tuple of stdout and stderr"""
    # instantiate a startupinfo obj:
    startupinfo = subprocess.STARTUPINFO()
    # set the use show window flag, might make conditional on being in Windows:
    startupinfo.dwFlags |= subprocess.STARTF_USESHOWWINDOW
    # pass as the startupinfo keyword argument:
    return subprocess.Popen(cmd,


answered 4 years ago zlr #6

Modern Python solution (>= 3.1):

 res = subprocess.check_output(lcmd, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)

answered 4 years ago Ethan Strider #7

If you need to run a shell command on multiple files, this did the trick for me.

import os
import subprocess

# Define a function for running commands and capturing stdout line by line
# (Modified from Vartec's solution because it wasn't printing all lines)
def runProcess(exe):    
    p = subprocess.Popen(exe, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)
    return iter(p.stdout.readline, b'')

# Get all filenames in working directory
for filename in os.listdir('./'):
    # This command will be run on each file
    cmd = 'nm ' + filename

    # Run the command and capture the output line by line.
    for line in runProcess(cmd.split()):
        # Eliminate leading and trailing whitespace
        # Split the output 
        output = line.split()

        # Filter the output and print relevant lines
        if len(output) > 2:
            if ((output[2] == 'set_program_name')):
                print filename
                print line

Edit: Just saw Max Persson's solution with J.F. Sebastian's suggestion. Went ahead and incorporated that.

answered 2 years ago cmlaverdiere #8

In Python 3.5:

import subprocess

output ="ls -l", shell=True, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, 

answered 2 years ago Mehdi1902 #9

This is a tricky but super simple solution which works in many situations:

import os
os.system('sample_cmd > tmp')
print open('tmp', 'r').read()

A temporary file(here is tmp) is created with the output of the command and you can read from it your desired output.

Extra note from the comments: You can remove the tmp file in the case of one-time job. If you need to do this several times, there is no need to delete the tmp.


answered 2 years ago The Aelfinn #10

I had a slightly different flavor of the same problem with the following requirements:

  1. Capture and return STDOUT messages as they accumulate in the STDOUT buffer (i.e. in realtime).
    • @vartec solved this Pythonically with his use of generators and the 'yield'
      keyword above
  2. Print all STDOUT lines (even if process exits before STDOUT buffer can be fully read)
  3. Don't waste CPU cycles polling the process at high-frequency
  4. Check the return code of the subprocess
  5. Print STDERR (separate from STDOUT) if we get a non-zero error return code.

I've combined and tweaked previous answers to come up with the following:

import subprocess
from time import sleep

def run_command(command):
    p = subprocess.Popen(command,
    # Read stdout from subprocess until the buffer is empty !
    for line in iter(p.stdout.readline, b''):
        if line: # Don't print blank lines
            yield line
    # This ensures the process has completed, AND sets the 'returncode' attr
    while p.poll() is None:                                                                                                                                        
        sleep(.1) #Don't waste CPU-cycles
    # Empty STDERR buffer
    err =
    if p.returncode != 0:
       # The run_command() function is responsible for logging STDERR 
       print("Error: " + str(err))

This code would be executed the same as previous answers:

for line in run_command(cmd):

answered 2 years ago itz-azhar #11

I had the same problem But figured out a very simple way of doing this follow this

import subprocess
Input = subprocess.getoutput("ls -l")

Hope it helps out

Note: This solution is python3 specific as subprocess.getoutput() don't work in python2

answered 2 years ago Muhammad Hassan #12

You can use following commands to run any shell command. I have used them on ubuntu.

import os
os.popen('your command here').read()

answered 1 year ago Jerry T #13

eg, execute('ls -ahl') differentiated three/four possible returns and OS platforms:

  1. no output, but run successfully
  2. output empty line, run successfully
  3. run failed
  4. output something, run successfully

function below

def execute(cmd, output=True, DEBUG_MODE=False):
"""Executes a bash command.
(cmd, output=True)
output: whether print shell output to screen, only affects screen display, does not affect returned values
return: ...regardless of output=True/False...
        returns shell output as a list with each elment is a line of string (whitespace stripped both sides) from output
        could be 
        [], ie, len()=0 --> no output;    
        [''] --> output empty line;     
        None --> error occured, see below

        if error ocurs, returns None (ie, is None), print out the error message to screen
if not DEBUG_MODE:
    print "Command: " + cmd

    def _execute_cmd(cmd):
        if == 'nt' or platform.system() == 'Windows':
            # set stdin, out, err all to PIPE to get results (other than None) after run the Popen() instance
            p = subprocess.Popen(cmd, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.PIPE, shell=True)
            # Use bash; the default is sh
            p = subprocess.Popen(cmd, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.PIPE, shell=True, executable="/bin/bash")

        # the Popen() instance starts running once instantiated (??)
        # additionally, communicate(), or poll() and wait process to terminate
        # communicate() accepts optional input as stdin to the pipe (requires setting stdin=subprocess.PIPE above), return out, err as tuple
        # if communicate(), the results are buffered in memory

        # Read stdout from subprocess until the buffer is empty !
        # if error occurs, the stdout is '', which means the below loop is essentially skipped
        # A prefix of 'b' or 'B' is ignored in Python 2; 
        # it indicates that the literal should become a bytes literal in Python 3 
        # (e.g. when code is automatically converted with 2to3).
        # return iter(p.stdout.readline, b'')
        for line in iter(p.stdout.readline, b''):
            # # Windows has \r\n, Unix has \n, Old mac has \r
            # if line not in ['','\n','\r','\r\n']: # Don't print blank lines
                yield line
        while p.poll() is None:                                                                                                                                        
            sleep(.1) #Don't waste CPU-cycles
        # Empty STDERR buffer
        err =
        if p.returncode != 0:
            # responsible for logging STDERR 
            print("Error: " + str(err))
            yield None

    out = []
    for line in _execute_cmd(cmd):
        # error did not occur earlier
        if line is not None:
            # trailing comma to avoid a newline (by print itself) being printed
            if output: print line,
            # error occured earlier
            out = None
    return out
    print "Simulation! The command is " + cmd
    print ""

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